Classical Talks – Interviews with members of The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America
This exclusive interview with Peter Pennoyer of Pennoyer Architects, New York was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in New York during January 2011
Interview with Peter Pennoyer
Briefly tell our readers about your background?
I was born and raised in New York City and attended both college and graduate school at Columbia University so I feel like a real New Yorker. My family was involved with the civic life of the city. Both of my parents served on various boards of cultural and political institutions. A commitment to doing good for one’s community was and continues to be an important value in my family. Through my father I was able to follow the deliberations of the Art Commission, a city agency that reviews all projects on public land. I also watched as the Metropolitan Museum expanded and became the first institution in New York to embrace the future at a time when the coffers were almost empty and American cities were widely assumed to be dangerous and in decline.
How did your interest in architecture, and particularly traditional architecture develop?
As a child I watched as various old buildings, some directly on my street, were demolished to make way for new apartment houses and office buildings. This was a low period in architecture in America, arguably the lowest of the 20th century, so I began to compare the new buildings to what was lost and what remained. From these comparisons I became I keen observer of architecture; this interest in looking at buildings became my primary focus outside of school. Before college I pursued my interest in the city and in architecture through internships at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the New York City Planning Commission and the New York City landmarks Preservation Commission. These groups and the people I met during these years convinced me of the importance of traditional and classical architecture.
Describe Peter Pennoyer Architects.
We are thirty-five architects, draftsmen and historians who collectively pursue a handful of residential and institutional commissions each year and produce a historical architectural monograph about every three years. I have two partners, Tom Nugent and Liz Graziolo and a Director of Design, Gregory Gilmartin. In addition we have many talented associates including Anton Glikin. Each commission is based on research and creativity, yet our base is our understanding of historical precedent. We are constantly learning and, we hope, improving. No one project is like another.
Clearly you hold classical architectural principles in great esteem, please explain how this translates into your work.
The language of classical architecture gives us the framework to pursue our imaginations without making our work self-referential. Classicism is more than the cannon of rules laid down by the masters such as Palladio; for me and my colleagues, the pursuit of every aspect and permutation of classicism – even the licentious ornament of later centuries is a spur to our imaginations.
Your work places a great emphasis on light, movement and volume, in essence space in time. Is there a favorite project? If so, please explain why.
My favorite project is a house in Dutchess County, completed in 2009. Set in rolling hills typical of the Hudson River Valley, this house meets the client’s brief which was to imagine a collaboration between Robert Adam and Duncan Phyfe designing a villa for a lady. The plan is a square, yet each façade is modeled to a distinct character. The interior is organized around a vaulted hall, a semi-circular stair and, on the second floor, a domed and vaulted gallery. My client’s collection of 19th Century American art fits perfectly.
How would you describe your personal style?
Quality of fabric and tailoring are most important. Lanvin, Etro and Phineas Cole from Paul Stuart are my favorites.
You can have any commission where budget is no object, what would it be?
I would like to design a town, or at least part of a town. The budget would assume that this place would be around for at least 100 years. In the world of American development that would be considered no budget.
We are currently designing part of a town in China. The client’s willingness to use real materials and invest in extraordinary construction details, together with their ambitious and optimistic outlook, make this feel like it may indeed turn out to be a dream commission.
The above interview with Peter Pennoyer 2011 © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.